Leeds Mercury 1914: Letters from the Front

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Readers who received letters from men on active service were invited to submit them to the “Leeds Mercury.” Any extracts published were paid for, with the promise that letters would be carefully and promptly returned to the senders.


Nurse Fox, of Halifax, who is on hospital duty neat to the fighting line in France, writes home to her father under date October 3rd.

“We have had a very busy day and the men want a lot doing for them.

They have been in the trenches a fortnight, and come in very tired, but soon buck up after a night or two’s rest and good food.

“If only all of you knew how much the men want comforting. Woodbines and sweets cheer them wonderfully.

Writing materials, papers, handkerchiefs and things like that are needed.

When the men arrive they have lost everything except their uniform.

“They’re good boys and deserve everything they’ve been given.

You never hear a murmur, except when the nerve has quite gone from them.”

Nurse Fox relates an amusing incident en route to the front.

At one halt, she and her sister nurses were entertained by an old French Colonel to a champagne dinner,

“and didn’t we have a time”, “we sang Old Lang Syne, He’s a Jolly Good Fellow and the National Anthem.

Then, as I was the only one who knew the Marseillaise in English,I sang it with the old gentleman, who didn’t know a word of English”.


The following is a letter from a youth, who nine years ago, lived with his mother at Kirkstall. and is now a volunteer with the French Army.

The widowed mother had a little poultry farm which lay before the German advance.

On the approach of the Germans some forty or fifty pullets were eaten by the French soldiers in order to save them from the Germans.

Since the Germans were driven back at the Marne the poultry farm is again in the possession of its owner, though the poultry are no more.

This Kirkstall youth writes to his mother from a training camp.

“We have been doing real war manoeuvring. It is hard and dirty work.

All this morning we were lying on the ground firing and then running to gain position, and then to gain another with bayonets.

You know the gun is heavy with the bayonet on the end when you have to hold it at arms length for nearly four hours.

Yesterday we got up about 4.30 and went out about 6 o’clock. We arrived at our destination about 6.30.

Then, we divided into twos and whilst one fired lying down on the wet ground the other had to make a trench lying down with a little spade to cover up our heads from infantry fire.

When we were throwing up the trench we had to put our knapsacks in front of us for cover and throw the earth against it until a little wall was made.

“The knapsack is very heavy, and with 120 rounds of ammunition, weighs about 76lb.

We have two pairs of boots but they are new and hurt the feet.

We don’t wear socks, but bits of rag covered with tallow to harden our feet.

All the same I have a lot of blisters and cuts all over my feet.


The honour of being personally congratulated by General Smith-Dorrien has fallen to the lot of a Leeds man, Corporal Jack Pape from Roundhay, Leeds.

Sapper W. G. Coombs of the Cable section refers to Pape’s heroics in this letter.

“Men were dropping all around, whether shot or for cover I know not.

I remember seeing one poor fellow - Jock Stirrick, of Perth - shot through the eye, and out at the jaw, by one of the first shots.

He was gallantly carried off the field, under fire, by Pape of Leeds but has since died.”

In a letter to a colleague, Pape modestly refers to the affair-

“You can say to them that on August 26th in the big fight on that day I kept my end up, and have since been personally congratulated by General Smith-Dorrien, Commander of the Second Army Corps.”

For gallantry in the field J. W. Pape was promoted and shook hands with the General in front of all the troops.